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Sermon for the 7th Sunday after Pentecost 2022

First Reading: Genesis 18:17-33

17The Lord said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, 18seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? 19For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice, so that the Lord may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.” 20Then the Lord said, “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave, 21I will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me. And if not, I will know.” 22So the men turned from there and went toward Sodom, but Abraham still stood before the Lord. 23Then Abraham drew near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? 24Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city. Will you then sweep away the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it? 25Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” 26And the Lord said, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will spare the whole place for their sake.” 27Abraham answered and said, “Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes. 28Suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking. Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five?” And he said, “I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.” 29Again he spoke to him and said, “Suppose forty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of forty I will not do it.” 30Then he said, “Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak. Suppose thirty are found there.” He answered, “I will not do it, if I find thirty there.” 31He said, “Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord. Suppose twenty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of twenty I will not destroy it.” 32Then he said, “Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak again but this once. Suppose ten are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.” 33And the Lord went his way, when he had finished speaking to Abraham, and Abraham returned to his place.

Psalm 138

1I will give thanks to you, O Lord, with my whole heart; before the gods I will sing your praise. 2I will bow down toward your holy temple and praise your Name, because of your love and faithfulness; 3For you have glorified your name and your word above all things. 4When I called, you answered me; you increased my strength within me. 5All the kings of the earth will praise you, O Lord, when they have heard the words of your mouth. 6They will sing of the ways of the Lord, that great is the glory of the Lord. 7Though the Lord be high, he cares for the lowly; he perceives the haughty from afar. 8Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you keep me safe; you stretch forth your hand against the fury of my enemies; your right hand shall save me. 9The Lord will make good his purpose for me; O Lord, your love endures forever; do not abandon the works of your hands.

Second Reading: Colossians 2:6-19

6Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, 7rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. 8See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. 9For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. 11In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. 13And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. 16Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 17These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. 18Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, 19and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.

Gospel: Luke 11:1-13

1Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” 2And he said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. 3Give us each day our daily bread, 4and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.” 5And he said to them, “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, 6for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; 7and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’? 8I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs. 9And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 10For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 11What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; 12or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

How to Pray

Let’s be honest, for most people, the thought of speaking in public is terrifying and I’m no exception.  It always amazes me; I can talk individually to everyone in this room and not think twice about it.  But each time I get up here to lead worship, I still feel uneasy.  And even as unsettling as talking in front of people is, praying at a family gathering or even in a smaller group, has got to trump public speaking.  Nothing makes Christians want to run and hide as fast as being asked to pray aloud.  Why is this?  Most Christians will claim they aren’t “good” at prayer.  Yet, what does it mean to be “good” at prayer?  And who is the judge of our prayers—other people or God?  Actually, if you really want an example of a “bad” prayer, this one might be it.

Bubba goes to hear the guest preacher at the First Holiness Church revival.  When the guest preacher asks that anyone with needs come forward for prayer, Bubba gets in line.  When it’s his turn, the guest preacher asks, “Bubba, what do you want me to pray about?”  Bubba says, “Preacher, I need you to pray for my hearing.”  So the preacher puts his hands over Bubba’s ears and prays a passionate prayer for Bubba’s hearing. 

After a few minutes, he removes his hands and asks, “Bubba, how’s your hearing now?”  Bubba says, “I don’t know, preacher, it’s not until next Wednesday in Little Rock.”  Truth be told, praying in public is, admittedly, more difficult than pastors want to admit.  Maybe that’s why Jesus was so gracious when His disciples asked Him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”  In the New Testament, there are six Greek words used to express the idea of praying.

Some of those words imply begging or asking urgently or making a pious wish.  In our Bible passage this morning, Jesus and His disciples use the Greek word pro-seuches-thai when they refer to prayer.  One of the commentaries I consulted described the root of this word pro-seuche means presenting supplications and praise to God.  This word indicates that these supplications and praises are of an intimate or personal nature, ones presented as if we were face to face, offered in a sincere manner.  The word implies communication between two persons who are known to each other.  And as important as the meaning of this word is, we also need understand the context in which the disciples’ request is made.

In the first verse of our reading, the Disciples were witnesses as Jesus prayed to His heavenly Father.  Luke tells us, when He had finished, one of His disciples asked, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.”  We know from several other passages that Jesus would often find time to pray.  Sometimes it was in a private place, other times, like in our reading for today, it was with His disciples.  Jesus was more than a teacher, He was a practicier of what He taught.  In our life of discipleship, we’re called to be like Jesus, and Jesus was a man of prayer, He practiced what He preached.  Jesus understands our situation, so He took time to instruct the disciples in how to pray.  This brings us to the next point we need to take to heart.  The disciples weren’t just asking for a prayer formula.  The disciples were asking a much deeper question, they were asking about closer communication with God.  

In some ways the disciples were asking, “What do you and God talk about?  Why does it seem like my prayers are hitting a ceiling?  What does it mean when God doesn’t ‘answer’ my prayer?  If God knows everything, why do I have to spend time in prayer?”  All the questions you and I have about prayer can be contained in the disciples’ request: “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”  The beauty of Jesus’ answer to the disciples is that He always gives us so much more than what we ask for.  Jesus gives us what we didn’t even know we needed.

In these next verses,Jesus wasn’t just teaching the disciples about prayer, He was also teaching them about the nature of God.Before we can understand prayer, we must understand our relationship with God.  And so, Jesus begins this truly famous prayer, with the most incredible word.  That’s the word: “Father.”  Father—in this one word, the whole nature of the communication between us and God changes.

Since 1986, the Burning Man festival has been celebrated in the Black Rock Desert in Nevada.  Thousands of people gather for a big party celebrating art, community, and self-expression.  In 2003 someone brought a large, portable phone booth to Burning Man.  They called it the God Phone, and they set it up in the field.  Above the booth is a sign that reads, “Talk to God.”  Below the booth is a phone line buried underground that leads to a secret location with a corresponding phone about 100 feet from the original booth.  Anyone who wants to stand in for God, and who can find the secret location of the second phone, gets to sit, listen, and respond to the prayer requests of those in the first phone booth.

Journalist Leora Smith got to “sit in for God” at Burning Man a few years ago, then went back to interview others who also took their turns answering the God Phone.  She wanted to understand the risks and responsibilities of listening to, and responding to, strangers’ confessions and questions.  The people she interviewed received questions like, “What is my purpose in life?”  “Why did my mom leave?”  “Can you watch over my son in rehab?  I’m worried this might be his last shot.”

Smith also met a woman named Jaye who was watching over the God Phone and making sure there were plenty of volunteers available to answer calls.  Jaye told Smith she had only two rules for those who signed up: #1. “Encourage a kinder, gentler god.  And #2.  God always answers.”  Jesus didn’t need to “encourage a kinder, gentler God.” He knew God as His loving Father who could be trusted with His honest questions and His deepest needs: a loving Father who always answered Him.  A loving Parent whose name is holy and whose will is perfect.  And with this one word—Father—He was trying to teach us the same thing.  Prayer is not just about the words we use; God knows what we need even before we ask (Matthew 6:8); prayer is also about the relationship we cultivate and nurture with God.  Back in 1826, Sojourner Truth escaped from slavery with her infant daughter.  

Ms. Truth became an ardent abolitionist and advocate for civil rights and women’s rights in our country.  History records that Ms. Truth was one of the first Black women to win a court case against a white man when she won her young son’s freedom from his slave master in 1828.  In the face of tremendous opposition and threats, she worked for civil rights for all people, especially for Black people, for women, and for the poor.

Sojourner’s courage and determination were inspired by her faith in God.  Her mother, Betsey, taught her to trust God with every need in her life.  Sojourner recalls her mother saying, “My children, there is a God who hears and sees you . . . and when you are beaten, or cruelly treated, or fall into any trouble, you must ask help of Him, and He will always hear and help you.”  What a wonderfully reassuring promise, “My children, there is a God who hears and sees you.”

If we really believe this promise, that God hears and sees us, wouldn’t it change our whole understanding about prayer?  We all have questions about prayer.  Often, we question whether or not we’re doing it “right”?  Please don’t let these questions stop you from praying and seeking a closer relationship with God.  This is the first thing Jesus is teaching us with this prayer—prayer has to do with establishing and strengthening our entire relationship with God.  The second thing Jesus is teaching, is that we can trust God’s will in all things.

When we come to realize that God is our loving Father, then we can trust God that He has our best interests at heart.  That’s why Jesus could pray so simply, “Give us each day our daily bread.  Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.  And lead us not into temptation.”  Why is this prayer so simple?  Jesus knows that He has the ear of his loving Father, the Almighty God, the Maker of heaven and earth.  Jesus knows that He can ask for anything, confident that God will faithfully answer.  This is why Jesus is telling His disciples, and us, to ask God for our daily needs, to forgive our sins, and to shield us from temptation.  With this prayer, Jesus is saying, “Let go of your external pressures—like worrying about food or shelter—and your internal conflicts—like bitterness and temptations—and trust the God who loves you is working in your life.”

There’s an old story of a man who needed to send a letter from his remote camp to the neighboring village, so he asked his son to make the trip.  The son had never traveled to the village on his own.  He looked at the trail ahead of him and said, “I’ll go, Dad, but I don’t see how that path will ever reach the village.”  The father pointed toward the horizon.  “Do you see the trail as far as the big tree down there?”  “Yes, I can see it that far.”  “When you get to that tree, you’ll see the trail a little farther ahead.  Just keep walking and you’ll see the next leg of the trail.  Just keep following what you see, and you’ll be in the village before you know it.”

There’s so much in this life that we don’t understand, so much we can’t anticipate, so many things we cannot control, that’s it’s easy to get stressed out and anxious, and to work ourselves to exhaustion trying to control the uncontrollable variables of our lives.  Jesus lived in peace because He trusted His Father’s will for Him.  He trusted that there was a trail ahead, even if He couldn’t see it.  So He prayed and He moved forward.  And in this prayer, Jesus is teaching us to trust God’s will in all things.  Finally, Jesus is teaching the disciples, and us, that when we pray, we can come to God expecting good things.

I don’t mean “come to God expecting all your prayers to be answered right away” or “come to God expecting to get everything you ask for in prayer” or even “come to God expecting to feel better because you prayed.”  Remember the second petition we pray in the Lord’s Prayer is that God’s will be done here, as it is in heaven.  We pray for God to give us what’s good for us and others.  Our daily bread is those things that we need, that are good for us and others, not our greeds and worldly desires.  Jesus wants us to come to God expecting good things, because God loves us enough to give us what we need.  God desires for us to come to Him to supply what we need. 

In verses 5-8, Jesus uses the example of a friend who gets up in the wee hours of the night and gives us bread simply because of our “shameless audacity.”  The word used here literally means “no shame.”  It’s a compound word, and this word is only used once in the entire New Testament.  Only in this story.  What kind of God lets us come to Him with no shame and make unreasonable demands on Him?  It’s a kind, caring and loving God who always sees us and hears us when we come to Him in prayer.  This is the reason Abraham felt comfortable in bargained with God in our Old Testament reading for today. (Genesis 18:17-33).

In addition to our readings for today, I’d also like for you to consider the story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15.  In this story, the younger son, with “shameless audacity,” demands to receive his inheritance early from his father.  As if this weren’t shameful enough, he then goes off to another country and wastes his whole inheritance living the high life.  Finally, when he’s broke, hungry, and at the end of his rope, he heads back toward home.  On the way, he practices his speech in his head: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.  I am no longer worthy to be called your son . . .”  And then Jesus says, “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” (Luke 15: 20, NIV)

Covered in fear and shame, the son headed toward home, only to have his father run to welcome him with open arms.  It makes no sense.  That God would let us come to Him, not in fear and trembling, but with “shameless audacity” and ask for what we need.  Why would God love us that much?  Because He created us to be in a relationship with Him.  And if we really believed this, why would anyone need to teach us about prayer?  Prayer should become for us something that flows naturally between us and God without any fears or burdens or shame blocking our way.

Actor Ossie Davis learned about faith in God from his own father who “taught by example what the presence of God in a man’s life could be.”  Ossie visited his father as he lay dying.  In spite of his pain and weakness, his father was still praying.  Davis said that there was no formality in his prayer.  Instead, he seemed to be having an intimate conversation with God.  Jesus’ disciples asked, “Lord, teach us to pray . . .,” but Jesus taught them so much more.  We have no reason to be afraid.  God is our loving Father.  

We can trust that God has our best interest in His heart.  We can expect good things from God.  And we can come to God in faith with “shameless audacity.”  Remember Jesus said, “For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened”.


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